Now that Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is nearly at it’s end with Ant-Man, and with Avengers: Age of Ultron clearing $1.3 billion worldwide, I thought I’d rank the 11 MCU movies so far. Why? Because I love the MCU, and I love to rank stuff. Oh, and this is my website.
Worldwide, the MCU has grossed more than $8.5 billion, averaging an incredible $774 million per film. More than 60% of ticket sales come from outside the United States. The figures boggle the mind no matter how you slice them.
And I’ve enjoyed each of the films, though not equally. I’ll be using my 10-star rating system, which is described below.
10 = All-time great movie. One of my favorites. Examples: The Last of the Mohicans, The Empire Strikes Back
9 = Awesome movie. Must own and watch multiple times. Examples: Spider-Man, Raiders of the Lost Ark
8 = Great movie. Maybe one or two things I didn’t like, but will likely own and watch multiple times. Examples: Revenge of the Sith, Pacific Rim
7 = Really enjoyed it. Probably a one and done, but still good. Cowboys & Aliens, Ender’s Game
6 = Flawed, but still enjoyable. Fun but without lasting power. Examples: most Dreamworks cartoons
5 = It’s got some good elements, still glad I watched it. Don’t recommend.
4 = The bad outweighs the good, but there’s still something redeeming in here.
3= Bad movie with a little goodness sprinkled in.
2 = Really bad. Don’t watch it.
1 = He-Man: Masters of the Universe-level bad
So here are my rankings.
11. The Incredible Hulk (2008). Adam’s rating: 6. Rotten Tomatoes: 67/72. Worldwide Gross: $263 million
I like this Hulk better than the earlier version, but it lacks some of the good writing and direction of other Marvel films, mainly because it’s not really a Marvel film. I almost left this off because though it’s listed as part of MCU Phase 1, it’s not really connected, as there have been no further references to the events in this movie. But what the heck, let’s leave it in.
10. Iron Man 2 (2010). Adam’s rating: 6. Rotten Tomatoes: 73/72. Worldwide Gross: $624 million
I like this movie. It’s a little uneven, and Whiplash is an undercooked villain. But there are some highlights for me, including War Machine’s appearance, and Sam Rockwell’s performance as the eccentric Justin Hammer. But the highlight of this movie is seeing Black Widow in full action mode, and some a character not named Iron Man should probably not be the highlight of a movie called Iron Man 2.
9. Thor (2011). Adam’s rating: 7. Rotten Tomatoes: 77/76. Worldwide Gross: $449 million
As I debated my rankings, I was surprised how far the Thor movies fell. This is not an indictment of this movie, but speaks more to the quality of the other Marvel movies. In 2011, it was my third favorite film behind Super 8 and X-Men: First Class. My major issues include some corny writing and I’m not a fan of Natalie Portman as Jane Foster. Other than that, it’s a fun introduction to Asgard, and Loki is the MCU’s best villain to date.
8. Thor: The Dark World (2013). Adam’s rating: 7. Rotten Tomatoes: 65/78. Worldwide Gross: $665 million
I thought this was better than its predecessor, but only by a little. I liked more time in Asgard, and I liked the give-and-take between Loki and Thor. But there’s too much Natalie Portman, and the bad guy is a fairly generic, kill everyone baddie. And the escape from Asgard scene has about three too many one liners.
7. Iron Man 3 (2014). Adam’s rating: 8. Rotten Tomatoes: 79/79. Worldwide Gross: $1,215 million
This was another one that I thought would be higher, but I couldn’t move it up. There’s so much I love about this movie, and I include the Mandarin trick so many hated. Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian was just above average as a villain, and I did not like the ending. Seeing all the Iron Man suits in action? Awesome. Pepper Potts delivering the kill shot despite no training and having powers for like 15 minutes? No so much. But RDJ is at his Tony Stark best, and the plot and pacing are fantastic.
6. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Adam’s rating: 8. Rotten Tomatoes: 79/74. Worldwide Gross: $371 million
I’ll admit that this isn’t quite as good a film as Iron Man 3, but these are my ratings, and as a Captain America fanboy, seeing this WWII period piece was just awesome. Marvel’s casting of Chris Evans was an inspired as RDJ as Tony Stark, and Hayley Atwell is awesome in everything she does. (Please take note, Natalie Portman.)
5. The Avengers (2012). Adam’s rating: 9. Rotten Tomatoes: 79/74. Worldwide Gross: $1,519 million
I grew up reading comics, mostly Marvel. Despite them not being the ‘cool’ early 1990s team (that would have been the X-Men), the Avengers were my favorite. Seeing this classic lineup on screen fighting off an alien invasion? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cheer out loud. Whedon’s influence on this film is also a major advantage, especially the tight, witty dialogue. And despite an over-sized, action-packed third act, it remained small enough to retain its emotional impact.
4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Adam’s rating: 9. Rotten Tomatoes: 89/92. Worldwide Gross: $715 million
When it came out, I thought it might be the best superhero movie ever. Adopting the witting Avengers tone, the Johnston brothers delivered an impactful movie. Chris Evans owns the ‘man out of time’ Captain just as well as he delivered the ‘scrawny-to-massive underdog’ Captain. While I put Iron Man ahead of it, this movie is fantastic, especially with Black Widow’s intense involvement.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Adam’s rating: 10. Rotten Tomatoes: 91/92. Worldwide Gross: $774 million
I did not read these comics, though I was aware of most of the characters. By far Marvel’s biggest risk to date, it was an unqualified hit, imbued with a sense of wonder and wit. James Gunn and Chris Pratt were a perfect marriage of director and protagonist, and very little, if anything, misses. I’ve heard some say it’s Star Wars for a new age, but it’s not that, because it’s not a magical kids film at its core. It’s probably better to say it’s Star Wars for all us grown up geeks, a space opera with all the wit and more of the grit.
2. Iron Man (2008). Adam’s rating: 10. Rotten Tomatoes: 93/91. Worldwide Gross: $585 million
Having rewatched this recently, it was amazing to me how well done this movie is. As previously mentioned, RDJ inhabits Tony Stark from minute one until the closing moments when he publicly proclaims himself as Iron Man. This excellent movie set up the expectations of what these Marvel films would be: fun summer fair with a mix of deep, character-driven story telling. Also, Jeff Bridges’ Obidiah Stane is the MCU’s second-best villain.
1. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Adam’s rating: 10. Rotten Tomatoes: 74/87. Worldwide Gross: $1,348 million (and counting)
Recency bias might be rearing its head here, but after watching it a second time, I think this is the MCU’s best. The growing rivalry between Tony and Steve. The use of Hawkeye. And the introduction of Vision in the final act. I know the Hulk-Black Widow romance has been controversial in some parts, but not here. Each character’s vulnerabilities were exposed and it drove an interesting plot. And Ultron was a clever and interesting villain; not the best, but possibly the best CGI villain this side of Gollum.
What amazes me is that three of my top five came out in the last two years. Marvel has found a formula, and it continues to work. Here’s hoping Ant-Man can live up the MCU’s lofty expectations.